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Proactively Managing Conflict: The Key to a Healthier Workplace

Posted on: January 11th, 2013 | Category: Employee Relations, Human Resources, Our Blog

Deb Gaber, Esq. and conflict resolution issuesConflict is change trying to happen.


This month’s issue of MODERN EMPLOYER addresses workplace conflict. Having been an attorney, mediator and conflict resolution specialist for over 25 years, I have worked with many organizations whose internal conflicts have stifled growth, productivity and happiness in ways that often boiled over and left all parties feeling frustrated, stressed and exhausted. It does not have to be that way. I hope you’ll gain a better understanding of the dynamics of workplace conflict from reading this blog post, and then take a moment to add your perspectives so that other employers can benefit from your insights and personal experiences.

The Cost of Workplace Conflict

When you consider the long-term costs of unresolved and/or unaddressed conflict in the workplace, you can see how important being proactive is for upper management. Whether the issues are relatively minor (such as personality conflicts or feelings of being “left out” socially), moderate (such as resentment over perceived disparate treatment by a manager or nepotism) or severe (such as threatening or violent actions against one or more people), the effects of the conflict, especially left unaddressed, are detrimental to everyone, and the company. And as conflict escalates, the problems and costs that can result also escalate. These damaging issues include:

Level One:

(Everyday personality & workplace issues, negative effects on workforce and performance are mainly irritating and distracting, but are brief and/or episodic)

Increased labor costs

Increased health care costs because of increased utilization
Lower morale, which effects employee productivity, attitude, loyalty and engagement
Increased absenteeism

Level Two:

(Conflicts that are very disruptive on a regular basis, have negative effectives on workplace and production and is prolonged, people feel uneasy often)

Increased employee turnover, including highly valued talent

Increased theft and damage to equipment and property
All the issues of Level One

Level Three:

(Conflicts that are extremely disruptive and constant, have negative effects on the workplace and production is prolonged, people feel threatened or at risk)

Increased legal fees and litigation costs

Increased liability exposure (personal injury, workers’ comp., health care & disability claims, etc.)
Increased difficulty attracting and retaining key talent
Increased violence between co-workers
Damage to company brand and reputation in the community
Increased risk for strikes, walkouts and grievances
All the issues of Levels One & Two

So what’s an employer to do?

As bosses, I know I don’t have to tell you how stress can affect your work. Employers are almost always under a little stress by nature of the fact that they run the ship and call the shots that determine a lot of the success of your company. Instead, I’d like to discuss how stress manifests itself among your employees, which may not seem so obvious to you. It can show up in the form of fear or aggression, towards co-workers, subordinates, vendors or customers. It may even be directed at you, the boss. Just like you, your employees’ stress may be rooted in something going on professionally or personally (or both), and the end result is a conflict at work. Unlike a person in a position of authority, however, workers may manifest these feelings in the form of bad attitudes, avoidance, sloppy work, absenteeism, complaining and/or arguing amongst themselves.

For a manager to simply throw up his or her hands and walk away or turn a blind eye to conflict is not the answer. Allowing conflict to go unchecked simply invites trouble. Preparing your company to deal with conflict is part of good governance, and involves assessing your current policies and systems. It helps prepare you for those times when conflict arises so that you deal with them swiftly, smoothly and most effectively.

Having worked with the United State Postal Office (USPO), I have seen first hand how both employees and managers can deal positively and proactively with stress and conflict in ways that result in better work performance and job satisfaction. The USPO was once an institution almost synonymous with workplace conflict and frustration. Today, their REDRESS (Resolve Employment Disputes Reach Equitable Solutions Swiftly) program is a model for how organizations can transform conflict in the workplace into something that can move work teams forward, not hold them back. The USPO has over 800,000 employees nationwide, and

since 1988 it has used the REDRESS program to teach employees new skills for handling disputes through listening to others and articulating themselves better. For its efforts, the USPO has garnered:

A drop in the number of EEOC complaints filed
Impressive closure rates for the EEOC cases they do have
Quicker dispute resolutions
Better overall employee relations and communications
Improved job satisfaction and workplace environment


Prepare Your Company for Conflict, Ask Yourself:

What system does your company have in place to deal with conflicts?
Do you have a management team trained to recognize signs of stress and to address conflict directly?
Do you periodically take the time to assess the conflict and stress levels of your workplace environments?
Have you done any team-building development that includes improving interpersonal communication?
Is there a confidential way for employees to report issues to management before they get out of control?
Does your company have ready access to professional mediators or conflict management coaches?
Is your company handbook up-to-date in how it spells out how violence, intimidation and misconduct will be handled?
Is your management team aware of the legal responsibilities and liabilities your company may have in the event of a conflict-related crisis?
Do you have a risk and/or crisis management plan to handle unforeseen events or emergencies?


Thinking about these things now and taking action to prevent conflicts from escalating into bigger, more damaging situations is in your company’s best interest. It’s in your employees’ best interest. It’s in your best interest, too.


 hireVision partners with Ms. Gaber to provide mediation and ombudsman services to hireVision’s myLink hotline and reporting program clients.

About our guest blogger:

Deb Gaber, Esq., Director of the Gaber Group, has over 25 years combined experience as an attorney, mediator and conflict resolution specialist. She is passionate about trying to improve human interactions through processes and conversations that open up understanding and move relationships forward. In her mediation practice she specializes in family and workplace issues, and she has provided seminars and workshops to attorneys, psychotherapists, health care workers, business owners, teaching faculty and numerous other groups on mediation and dispute resolution issues. Ms. Gaber is an active member of the Pennsylvania, Lehigh and Monroe County Bar Associations, the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators and is an Associate of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and is certified by the Institute as a Transformative Mediator. She was ranked advanced practitioner member of the Association for Conflict Resolution. Ms. Gaber earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in religious studies and a law degree from Indiana University. Deborah Gaber’s publications include The Case for Mediation in Family Law Practice, which appeared in the Pennsylvania Family Lawyer. She was a contributing editor for the book entitled Mental Health Experts: Roles and Qualifications for the Court (2003) by Frank Dattilio, PhD and Robert Sadoff, MD.


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